BEIJING (AP) — As players gathered at their respective blue lines to honor their opponents following the game, Michelle Karvinen of Finland immediately noticed Japan captain Chiho Osawa growing emotional across the way.
Karvinen for a moment put aside the joy of Finland advancing to the Olympic women’s hockey semifinals after a 7-1 win Saturday that eliminated Japan. She led a group of teammates through the neutral zone to console Osawa, whom the Finns have come to know and respect while playing with her for Lulea of the Swedish league the past three years.
“Seeing her like that on the blue line really took me in the heart,” Karvinen said. “So as soon as I saw it, as soon as we said thanks for the game, I wanted to go and just give her a big hug.”
One by one, six Finns skated over before they did a group hug, which nearly smothered Osawa along the boards near the penalty box. Some tapped the captain on the head, Ronja Savolainen wrapped her arm around Osawa’s neck and everyone made sure to offer words of encouragement before leaving the ice.
What struck Karvinen was knowing the pain of being eliminated at the Olympics.
“It’s probably my worst moments in my my career,” she said. “So being able to go there right away and show her comfort was really important for all of us that know her.”
It wasn’t lost on the Finns that the Beijing Games could be the third and last for Osawa, who turned 30 on Thursday, and has captained Japan since 2013.
“It has really been an honor to get to know her,” Finland captain Jenni Hiirokoski said. “She’s really a good teammate, and a nice person, and we are proud of how she has led team Japan here.”
Japan matched a nation best by finishing sixth for the third time in four Olympic appearances, while Finland advanced to play the United States in the semifinals on Monday.
For the many rivalries there are in hockey between countries — Canada and the U.S., Finland and the Russians or Swedes — there are also bonds that form between players in a sport with limited places for women to play.
Aside from the Swedish league, Russia has a women’s league, and then there’s the Premier Hockey Federation in North America, which is made up of mostly North Americans but attempting to attract more international players.
The pandemic also has played havoc with schedules and limited the number of times competing countries could meet over the past few years.
“I think it’s one of the most beautiful things about sports. It’s the bonds you build both with teammates but also opponents throughout the years,” Karvinen said.
“She’s probably the most humble player I have ever played with, just always working hard and treating people with so much respect,” she added. “I really admire her as a person.”
Her eyes still noticeably red from tears, Osawa spent a lengthy stretch conducting interviews with the media following the game.
“They say you have to be proud of it, and proud of the team,” Osawa said in English of what the Finns told her. “I’m happy, but I really wanted to win, and want to play more games.”
She then turned to a team official for translation, when asked how meaningful it was to be consoled by her opponents.
“I’m so happy and proud of them,” Osawa said through the interpreter. “I wish they will win the next game.”
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